When Hollywood and paleoanthropology intersect, 2

1 minute read

A couple of weeks ago, TV’s Bones series, which features stories inspired by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, did an episode with a relevant plot: The FBI encounters bones dug up by an archaeologist in Chechnya, which turn out to be Ayla’s family, or something thereabouts – a family group of Neandertal, modern human, and hybrid offspring. A reader tipped me to the story, but I’m not a regular viewer of the show. Fortunately, Kristina Killgrove – along with her excellent work in Roman bioarchaeology – also watches and reviews episodes of Bones: “Bones - Season 8, Episode 11 (Review)”.

She describes the plot and applies the reality filter – including things the writers got right, and the parts that were, well, weaker:

Edison said "epiphynis" for some odd reason. He and Brennan both kept saying "Homo sapien" which really just annoys the crap out of me. (Seriously, I harp on this with my students - it's sapiens, as it's from the Latin present participle, which ends in -ns. Also, it's super easy to remember it has an -s at the end because literally all other major Homo species do: H. habilis, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens. For different linguistic reasons, but it makes it easy to remember!) I could go on and on about how they kept saying "Neanderthal" rather than "Neandertal" (the latter being the preferred pronunciation today), but... yeah. Argh. Just. Argh.

The plot twist of the creationist who funded archaeological work so that he could destroy the finds was pretty clever.